EUGENE, Ore. — All September, Colorado has leaned into being America’s most loved, hated, watched and talked-about team. That didn’t change as it prepared to kick off as a 21-point underdog against a No. 10 Oregon team eyeing a Pac-12 title and a Playoff spot.
Colorado defensive tackle Bishop Thomas skipped into the tunnel at Autzen Stadium, flashing his teeth wrapped in metal wire and brackets meant to perfect his smile. Safety Vito Tisdale stayed silent but held up the back of his fist and pointed to his wrist, which didn’t have a Rolex but did pay tribute to Shedeur Sanders’ wrist earlier this season when he shooed Nebraska’s players off the midfield logo.
Oregon fans hovering over the tunnel played their part with boos, jeers and unfriendly hand signs of their own as the Buffaloes made their way to the locker room 30 minutes before the game.
“I love when they hate us!” Thomas yelled through a smile. “Don’t you love that, boy?”
The Buffaloes’ faces changed once the game began.
Smiles were few and far between as Oregon spent 60 minutes forcing quarterback Shedeur Sanders to try to run for safety and Colorado’s cornerbacks to scramble to try to cover and tackle Oregon’s receivers.
“We were prepared for a battle,” Oregon coach Dan Lanning said. “It didn’t end up being a battle.”
Colorado tried to shock the sporting world on the road again with millions of eyes watching, only to endure a 42-6 blowout loss at the hands of the Ducks, who led 35-0 at halftime and coughed up a shutout only when Sanders found tight end Michael Harrison in the end zone with 2:51 to play.
A program built on belief shocked itself.
“People around the country will say, ‘This is what they needed to humble themselves,’” Colorado coach Deion Sanders said. “We wasn’t arrogant or whatever. We’re confident people. Our confidence offends your insecurity. That’s a problem with you, it’s not us. We expect to do well. We expect to play well. We expect to win every game.
“It’s not something that was needed. That’s like saying you get in car wreck or something and saying, ‘Oh, you needed that.’ You didn’t need that. That’s just stupid. It’s just something that happened. They got the best of us today. That’s just it.”
It was clear from the game’s first few minutes that everyone tuning in would be watching precisely that. Colorado passed Oregon’s 40-yard line just once in the first half and punted on the next play. At halftime, Oregon’s offense had amassed 22 first downs. Colorado had four, with 21 yards on 24 plays.
Oregon outgained Colorado 522 to 199. Shedeur Sanders was relentlessly pressured and sacked seven times.
“I was holding onto the ball too long,” he said.
Oregon quarterback Bo Nix, who raced across the field to grab and embrace Deion Sanders as security ushered him off the field after the game, finished with four total touchdowns and just five incompletions.
Any moment and almost any number on the stat sheet reflected Sanders’ frank assessment of the day’s events.
“A good, old-fashioned butt-kicking,” he said.
Trotter: Oregon made a statement to Deion Sanders, Colorado and the nation
And while Sanders emphatically suggested the loss would not humble his team, it will reshape how those not wearing black and gold view it.
Suggestions that Colorado might truly shock the sport and go from 1-11 to contending for a Pac-12 title in one offseason, which now feel like a fairytale, will quiet. That happens when a team falls from 3-0 to 3-1 as decisively as the Buffaloes did Saturday.
Why can’t they? Teams like Oregon — and peers like USC, Utah and Washington — are why. Suggestions that Colorado, which hosts Heisman Trophy winner Caleb Williams and USC next week, are in for a disastrous free fall will grow louder.
The truth is where it usually is: Somewhere in the middle.
“You better get me right now. This is the worst we gonna be,” Sanders said. “You better get me right now.”
And people will get their shots in.
At least a half-dozen times, the Oregon student section fired up an “overrated” chant. As the final minute leaked away and cemented Saturday’s result, the crowd behind the Colorado bench started one last chant, and the students were quick to join in. Surely, there were plenty watching at home who agreed.
No. 19 Colorado? Not for long.
“Get your butt up and let’s go. We ain’t got time to have a pity party,” Deion Sanders said. “Ain’t nobody walking around the locker room with napkins and tissues.”
Lanning, who mostly played nice leading into the game and was complimentary of Sanders afterward, saved his shots for his pregame speech to his team, with ESPN’s camera focused directly on him.
Whether he consented to ESPN airing it if his team was losing 14-0 instead of leading 14-0 is unclear. But it was not subtle and echoed what many coaches throughout the sport have taken issue with as Colorado has not apologized for three YouTube channels chronicling the daily happenings inside the program, an Amazon documentary crew producing the latest season of “Coach Prime” and players’ social media handles on the backs of their practice jerseys.
Last week, The Rock gave the team a pregame pep talk and rapper Lil Wayne led the team onto the field and rapped in the end zone as the Buffaloes stampeded onto Folsom Field.
“Rooted in substance, not flash,” Lanning told his team. “Today, we talk with our pads. The Cinderella story is over, men. They’re fighting for clicks. We’re fighting for wins. There’s a difference, right? There’s a difference, right? This game ain’t gonna be played in Hollywood. It’s gonna be played on the grass.”
Dan Lanning didn’t mince words when talking to his Ducks about Deion Sanders and Colorado 😳
“The Cinderella story is 𝙤𝙫𝙚𝙧.
“They’re fighting for clicks, we’re fighting for wins.”
— The Athletic (@TheAthletic) September 23, 2023
Lanning after the game?
“We do a pregame speech every week,” he said. “I guess there was a camera in there this time.”
Sanders referenced the comment afterward, saying that he “has messengers” who brought the clip to his attention.
“I don’t say stuff just to say it for a click, contrary to what some may say. Yeah, I keep receipts,” Sanders said. “He’s done a great job. God bless him. Take they shots. They won. I don’t shoot. I don’t do that. They won.”
Vannini: Deion won’t take it personally. Oregon’s Dan Lanning did his job in blowout win
Thomas was back in the same spot underneath the eastern goal post as he left the field after the game. But for a few moments, he stopped and turned around, watching the Oregon players celebrate on the other end of the field. They danced and slapped shoulder pads and skipped into the western tunnel, which was full of smoke the last time the game had been competitive — that is, before kickoff.
Thomas shook his head. A Colorado support staffer jogged and patted him on the shoulder pad.
“Back to work,” he said.
(Top photo of Shedeur Sanders: Tom Hauck / Getty Images)